What You Can’t Buy for $2,700 Anymore

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I have a model of a ’71 Dodge Demon 340 Wedge – which is all I can afford these day. A real ’71 Demon 340 – today – costs more than most of us can afford these days.

That wasn’t the case back in ’71 – when a brand-new Demon 340 cost about $2,700. Almost anyone could afford that. Granted, that $2,700 is about $20,000 in today’s devalued money. But it’s still not a lot of money – for a V8 muscle car.

Which is what that sum did buy back in ’71.

But why did it only cost that much?

Part of the reason is that the Demon was based on the Dart, which was a basic economy car that was transformed into a muscle car. This was easy – inexpensive – to do back in ’71, because a Dart was already everything a muscle car needed to be, fundamentally. It was rear-drive. It was designed to accommodate a V8. All it needed to be a muscle car was a powerful V8 – which the 340 Wedge small block was – plus a heavy-duty suspension, bigger wheels/tires and cosmetic/trim enhancements. All of these were bolt-ons. High-performance parts from other Mopar models (or just off-the-shelf) transformed a six-cylinder grocery-getter Dart into a 340 Demon, just by bolting them on.

Anyone could do it. And Dodge did.

That is also, by the way, how the first muscle car – the 1964 Pontiac GTO – was put-together, too. Take a Tempest, which was Pontiac’s entry-level car at the time and add a high-powered 389 V8 from one of Pontiac’s bigger cars and – voila! – a muscle car.

And an affordable car.

The GTO was specifically meant to be within the means of young, first-time buyers – often just out of high school. Imagine that. A high school grad’s first car, a V8 muscle car. Today of course such cars are middle-aged guys’ cars – because it takes working until you’re middle-aged before you’re in a position to spend the pushing $40k it takes to buy any new V8-powered muscle car. Once upon a better time, you got the car and got the girl. Now – by the time you get the car – you probably need Viagra. 

The Demon (and others like it, such as the Olds Cutlass 350 Rallye and the Ford Maverick Grabber) were an attempt to return to those roots because by the early ’70s, car like the GTO had become too expensive – both to buy and insure – for most first-time, just out-of-high-school buyers. So, Dodge – and Olds and Ford – revisited the original concept, to bring affordable muscle cars back.

That’s not possible, today – in part because there aren’t any rear-drive economy cars designed to accommodate a V8. Today’s economy cars are all front-wheel-drive and not designed to accommodate even a V6. The whole car would have to be re-engineered, which would be expensive. And they’re already expensive. Most cost nearly as much as the ’71 Demon cost – about $20k in today’s money, which is the same in terms of buying power as $2,700 was in ’71 money.

They cost that much, in part, because they come standard with things the Demon didn’t, such as AC and power windows, locks, etc. All nice to have, but all of which add to what it costs. There is also, of course, the cost of government – whether you want to have (and pay for it) or not. This includes the cost of such things as the 4-6 air bags that every new car comes standard with and which every new car must also be designed around. The Dart had a simple, bolt-on steering wheel that could be easily and inexpensively replaced with a fancier/sportier one as part of the transformation into a Demon. Replacing the air-blobb’d steering wheel of a modern car is neither simple nor inexpensive. Even the seats (which often have air bags, too) are part of the “safety” package and difficult for that reason to swap around.

Everything must be “certified” an “compliant.” All of which costs.

The Demon and its kind were feasible precisely because they were affordable. Both to make  and to buy.

The Demon was something else, too.

Though classified as a “compact” when it was new, it was 192.5 inches long (slightly longer overall than a 2022 Camry) and so would fall into the mid-sized class today. It had usable rear seats (unlike a new Camaro’s or Mustang’s) and a trunk that was much larger than the truncated trunks of today’s full-size cars. It was, in other words, a practical car as well as a muscle car that was also an affordable car.

There are no such new cars available today.

Which is a measure of what we’ve lost – and not just in terms of the cost.

. . .

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  1. The performance variants of cars are more bespoke than they are bolt-on now. An M variant of a Beemer shares basically the monocoque and interior with the parent series and little else. Almost everything mechanical is different.

  2. I saw this post and thought you were complaining about how expensive classic cars were getting. One town over from me there’s a 1974 Plymouth Duster 340 that is the spitting image of your die cast, bright screaming yellow with a blacked out hood and fender tops, and a Go Wing on the trunk lid. Asking price $15K. Which is cheap as a quick look-see of solid Dusters and Demons on collectible car sites shows $20-$30K asking prices.

    Then I read the post and sadly agree that you are right. For a young guy (or gal) who wants “fun on a budget”, you have to buy used. I just picked up a late model Dodge Challenger SXT this weekend for $25K. Doable for a young guy or gal with a solid job, but still, the price is IMO artificially inflated.

    When I graduated college “All those years ago”, Muscle Cars were already collectors items but you could get the spirit of the age in a compact car with a sporty trim package. Chrysler jazzed up their compacts (Sundance/Shadow, Neon, and the older “Omnirizon” compacts with Shelby packages), Ford sold an Escort GT, even Chevrolet had a Cavalier Z-24. Were they street burners? In some cases yes, but they were faster and nicer looking and appointed than their bargain basement black bumpered kin. And they didn’t break the bank too badly for a younger person looking for fun on a budget.

    Now? Do you want the silver, grey, or white FWD CUV kid?

    I fear car companies are returning to what they were in the 1950s: We make cars for families with a few “Halo” cars for wealthier folks. Nothing wrong with family cars, but does a young guy really want a CUV?

  3. I keep getting emails from Costco on offers on high end Lego sets of nice cars… these sets are not cheap, up to 400 GBP for some of them. I contrast that to what my dad once told me of getting an olds 98, with an enormous (and powerful V8) in 1970, for 400 dollars. Orcourse all the ads in the emails show grown (bearded and smiling) men playing joyfully with the lego sets. A generation ago – these men would have been enjoying a REAL car, now they are playing with a lego set of it !!

  4. My life-long buddy bought a new ’71 Plymouth Duster 340, 4-speed, yellow with black stripe, which looks exactly like the above picture. It was pretty quick.

    He previously had a new ’68 Dodge Dart GTS with the rare 383 4 barrel, automatic. Also very quick, and one which he wishes he still had.

      • I noted that too. The ’71 Dodge Demon 340 had different striping and no ” 340 wedge” call-out on the hood. His A-body model also has a sharks tooth grille only found on a Duster 340. Neat little Mopar model, though.

        • I think we snip a corner of his “Car Guy” card off for that.

          To be fair, he has admitted he’s a GM guy from way back. All those weird cars from Auburn Hills must look alike to him. 😜

      • I knew the cars I grew up with pretty well, but TBH I do not remember the Dodge Demon from back then.

        FWIW: I’m quite sure my buddy’s Duster did not have a black hood, but I will ask him when I talk to him. Was that maybe an option?

        Does anybody know why I don’t get email notifications even though I’m supposedly “subscribed”?

    • I wish I still had my 1970 340 Dart Swinger. Mine was yellow with black stripe and hood. It was also a Mr. Norms GSS special edition with headers, Mallory dual point, different cam and carb. It was badass, guys thought it was a hemi. Still came with the 5yr/50k warranty. Blew up 4 727 torqueflites. Last one cost me $35, they told me no more transes. LOL.

  5. > Not that they’re bad cars or bad people…but the constant emphasis on one segment of the hobby to the virtual exclusion of all else ruins it. I’d rather see a survivor 65 AMC 6cyl. Rambler or a ’61 Mercury Comet than a ’69 Camaro SS or a roided-up Falcon

    There is (or was) a BOP show every March in Scottsdale, AZ, that pulls in the usual suspects with their 442s, GTOs, etc., but in among those you’ll also usually find an early-’60s Pontiac Tempest with a lazy four under the hood, and completely unrestored. It’s interesting in that it challenges the assumptions one might have about what kinds of cars were being put on the road back in the day. I also used to bring my ’77 Cutlass Supreme, back when I had it.

  6. The thing with car computers, they could be more simple and even standardized, but they seem to go out of their way to do the opposite.

    It’s not like every car model needs a total custom computer system but custom is largely what we have now (even within the same model vehicle!). They all do basically the same thing, so why not a computer system that is basically the same for all of a manufacturers models. They often talk about modular parts, but why not with computer systems? These are the parts that could be the same over all their models and nobody would care. Then they could be changing out parts WE DO care about to make more individual vehicles….

    A Ford computer, or a GM computer (maybe even general open source software, since they love to outsource things now a days) that would basically the same except for some of the (changeable) software.

    Seems the complexity is what they think makes them money I suppose, like making people pay monthly for their heated seats. Something like that just begs hackers to unlock things.

    If anything software should have opened up cars more not less.

    We used to third party customize everything about a car, but not when it comes to software and computer systems, at least not very much.

    • “ The thing with car computers, they could be more simple and even standardized, but they seem to go out of their way to do the opposite”

      Yep, I’m waiting/hoping some bright bulb “Musk Lite” type person will hit on this for aftermarket maintenance of cars sidelined by an expensive computer and or interface failure. There are aftermarket TBI systems with a computer controller for replacing classic carbs, step it up a notch for more modern rides.

      Need a basic system to run the engine, trans, and HVAC. Canbus replacement for lights, good to go. Dump the touch screen for a panel with actual knobs and switches.

      2 or 3 grand to resurrect an otherwise serviceable ride (with a real engine!) is a whole lot better than sinking 50k into a new ride you’ll end up hating.

  7. I hear you, but Hyundai offers up some damn good performance at a relatively low price. The Elantra N has 286 (net) hp and would crush a ’71 Demon. Granted it’s $32k, but it’s got la slew of luxury features, sport seats, a nice stereo, etc., can seat 5 and gets 20/30 mpg. In fact, this Elantra N would probably outperform every single production car available in 1971.

    • Hi Mister,

      Crush? It might be slightly quicker to 60 and through the quarter. The Hyundai is very heavy for its size. The Demon was light. And – a big one – it’s easy and cheap to make the Demon much quicker. A cam swap, headers, some tuning – and that little Dodge could easily run high 12s. There is a lot of untapped potential in that 340 V8. The N’s little turbo engine is probably close to peaked out, in stock trim.

      Besides which – the V8 just sounds better (and FWD sucks).

  8. For all the gnashing of teeth that politicians make yakking endlessly about the problems low income people face, they (the politician),,,,,,, are the biggest cause of poor peoples problems.

    And its not just low income people, it’s all the middle income people too.

    The regulatory state is the main problem of all people.

    People have no idea the huge costs of it. It’s not just the overspending of the state itself. It’s the costs passed through everything today. It easy to see the sales tax on items, but that is only one time uncle is costing you. The overall purchase price has other buried taxes in it as well.

    Then there are changes made to things to comply with uncles rules. Nobody really wanted to give up the five gallon toilets for those one gallon ones that don’t work very well. Nobody really wants to give up V8’s for turbo 4’s. Just because they are the only thing left on the market doesn’t make them popular.

    Then there are tax incentives that just don’t make sense. My folks did a solar installation in the early 80’s (just before Reagan finally killed that). Did it save them money? Nope, overall it never really saved money (at best it just made the bill go up a bit slower). Had they had to pay the full cost of that project, it would have been a loss. They would have been better off doing a window replacement and insulation project. Windows would have at least paid for themselves when the house was sold later.

    • richb,
      Not only are YOU paying tax on any and everything you earn and spend, but you are also financing the tax bill of every party involved in production. From the mine or farm to the point of purchase. The idea of a Value Added Tax has floated around. We already have one. It’s called income tax.

  9. Another rason they could cheaply transform the Dart into a Demon cheaply is that the cars were SIMPLE! They didn’t have 57 different computer modules and a central ECU which needed to interact with everything else, and thus needed to be modified to work with different components. They just had to bolt in the various components, and as long as there was room and it was physically possible, VOILA! No miles of wiring and harnesses with more wires than the Trans-Atlantic Cable….no reprogramming of the electronically-controlled suspension (just put in heavier springs)……

    Ah, the good old days.

    Only downside is: Today, every remaining economy plain-Jane Dart and Duster is made into muscle-car version clone, simply because it can be done so easily by just acquiring and changing parts…so it’s next to impossible to find a viable Slant-six or non-muscle V-8 survivor of these cars on the cheap.

    Now, every car that ever was the basis for a muscle variant, is either a parts donor, clone, or “project”. (This is why I don’t go to car shows. So sick of seeing the same cars venerated constantly- by the same type of people- Not that they’re bad cars or bad people…but the constant emphasis on one segment of the hobby to the virtual exclusion of all else ruins it. I’d rather see a survivor 65 AMC 6cyl. Rambler or a ’61 Mercury Comet than a ’69 Camaro SS or a roided-up Falcon, because the latter have become so ubiquitous, and have been for decades now, that they are no longer interesting- they are just all the same- expected- every show will have them… Yawn)

    • I am with ya Nunzio, don’t go to car shows either. Same cars every year and no innovation. I like factory correct service trucks and older cars that were not embellished. That is the true work of a car craftsmen. I like 6 cylinder engine cars and trucks and have owned quite a few over the years and wish I had kept some, the eternal bane and wail of us gearheads…


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